Religion's rise in the stars

Herald Sun, Australia/July 9, 2007
By Carla Danaher

Victoria's Scientology population has almost doubled in a decade, figures reveal. There are 629 Scientologists in Victoria, compared with 324 in 1996.

Census data prepared for the Herald Sun shows that Melbourne's Yarra Ranges and Whitehorse areas are the state's Scientology capitals.

Australia-wide, there were 2507 Scientologists in 2006, up from 1489 a decade ago.

Experts say the religion's popularity is in line with the growth of other alternative religions and has been boosted significantly by Scientology's celebrity links.

High-profile Scientologists such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, tycoon James Packer and singer Kate Ceberano have kept the religion in the public spotlight.

RMIT professor of intercultural studies Desmond Cahill said Scientology's recruitment methods, such as its psychological tests, would also appeal to some people.

"As people have moved away from mainstream churches, there has been a certain attraction held by these smaller, more unusual faiths," Prof Cahill said.

"It's developed a worldwide image because of the attraction of film stars and celebrities," he said.

Monash University sociology professor Gary Bouma said the celebrity link helped sell the religion.

"It does put a positive gloss on the product," Prof Bouma said. "Whether it actually brings people in, I don't know, but it makes the product clearly saleable."

He said the growth of Scientology was no surprise. "Its growth is along the lines of other small religious groups.

"The mainstream religions are having a hard time attracting people."

While Christianity remains the dominant religion in Australia, census data shows that non-Christian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism are growing at a faster rate.

Church of Scientology Melbourne president Emmanuel Foundas said the religion's focus on the individual was appealing to more people today.

"I think what you're seeing is people are bumping into more Scientologists and want to know about it," he said. "More people know what Scientology is than they did 10 years ago.

"They see the positive effects it has on people and want to go and find something for themselves."

But Mr Foundas was not sure why the Yarra Ranges had so many Scientologists. "I think it has the alternate thinkers - people who were 1970s kids, I imagine."

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